Title: Jimmy OToole Osceola
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Title: Jimmy OToole Osceola
Series Title: Jimmy OToole Osceola
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SEM 242
Jimmy O'Toole Osceola

Mr. Osceola was interviewed in 1992 by Billy Cypress. His name, O'Toole, he "bought"
in part to give tribute to an Irish friend he had corresponded with (2-3). Osceola's father
was a medicine man's assistant, which meant that his family lived somewhat isolated
from other people (3). The family had vegetable gardens, and Osceola's father hunted
for animal hides; when hunting was outlawed, the family moved to where the father
could find work, especially toward the reservations (3-4). Osceola remembers his
father's early work crating at a grocery store. He recalls being too old for the reservation
day school, which he describes, but went to boarding school in part at the invitation of
the "Agency" (BIA?). His sister signed the papers with a fingerprint, since his father
opposed it, in part as a medicine man's assistant (5-6). His father did, however, convert
to Christianity shortly before passing away in the early 1960s (6). Osceola did not
automatically learn medicine; medicine is not just passed on but is taught to people who
are able and interested in learning it and performing those services (7).

Osceola sees a change in historical knowledge among Seminoles. Formerly, people
taught younger generations with snippets of historical information, not like books. Today
this has "fallen apart," in part due to population growth and also intermarriage with non-
Indians or Indians from other backgrounds (8-9).

After going to school Osceola was diagnosed with tuberculosis, which required years of
treatment and recovery. Although school was in North Carolina, Osceola went to a
hospital in Oklahoma (10). Following recovery he did not go back to school but began
"drifting," working odd jobs, including tourist attractions. When the economy was tight [in
the 1980s], he was given work with the Tribe, working with senior citizens in the Hot
Meals program (11). He discusses the origins of this program and its relationship with
state and other municipal programs (18-20)

When his mother died, early in his life, Osceola learned to sew. After his sisters
obtained a sewing machine, he experimented with making clothing for sale (11-12). This
is something he still does. Sewing is important, he explains, because it presents
tradition to younger generations (12, and see 18). Although his father had a role in
Green Corn Dances, Osceola only attends occasionally. He lost interest, he says, when
he learned through school about the myriad opportunities for occupations (13-14). The
dance is somewhat like a new-year's celebration, and scratching was for renewal. What
has changed most in the dance is the inclusion of non-Seminole Indians (15-16).
Osceola is concerned about cultural preservation but sees that some people of all
generations are not interested in it. It is also difficult because people live in different
areas, different reservations (17). He thinks the museum is a very positive step, and he
has some suggestions about it (18).

SEM 242
Interviewee: Jimmy O'Toole Osceola
Interviewer: R. Howard
28 June 1999

H: I am talking this morning with Mr. Jimmy O'Toole Osceola at the Holly wood

Reservation Senior Citizens Center. Mr. Osceola was interviewed not long ago,

in 1992, by Billy Cypress about some of the history of the Seminoles. I want to

ask you a few questions that are not on there. Tell me, to what clan do you


O: Panther.

H: When and where were you born?

O: I was born in Collier County in 1925.

H: And do you have a Mikasuki name? Or a Muskogee name?

O: I do not understand.

H: Do you have an Indian name?

O: Yes. I have two Indian names.

H: Will you tell me what they are?

O: My four-day-old name is Sho-Kee, and my teenage name is Ikas-Hachee.

H: And what does each of those names mean?

O: The first one is steep, and the other one I do not know. They are both in the

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Creek language.

H: Who gave you those names?

O: My grandmother.

H: Do you ever use those names still? Do people call you those names?

O: Oh, yes. They called me that name up to around 1940 or 1943.

H: I find it interesting that you have O'Toole in your name. Where does that come


O: I still do not understand.

H: O'Toole is part of your English name. Where does O'Toole come from? Where

did that name come from?

O: My English name? O'Toole? I bought it. [laughs]

H: You bought it?

O: Yes.

H: How did you do that?

O: I had a friend-a friend from Ireland. He was from Dublin, Ireland. I never met

him. He came to the United States but then all of a sudden just stopped writing. I

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do not know what happened to him, but I took that Irish name to honor him. I

liked the name-that is not his name-I liked the name and I asked a lawyer to

make it legal, and he told me to go up to the courthouse and look up name-

changing or removing, and all of that. It has descriptions how to do it. He asked

me to get a copy for him. I did that and he passed it for me, to make it legal, my

attorney. I paid him $107, I think it was.

H: Have you always lived on the reservation?

O: No. I was born in the wilderness in Collier County. We lived in isolated homes

because my father was one of the medicine man's staff and he had to go, every

year; he had a portion of the medicine with him, so he had to go all the time. He

would rather that we lived in isolated homes, with his father living close, about a

mile from our home. He always lived there, alone. We would go visit him. But

my grandfather, he would never come visit us, for some reason I do not know.

He was a teacher.

H: What was you grandfather's name?

O: Jimmy Osceola.

H: And your father's?

O: Billy Osceola. My dad always had two vegetable gardens for our supply. That

kept us busy year round. He hunted animal hides for the money. He was a very

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good provider and was always busy every day. We had chickens for eggs. My

dad had dogs for hunting. Then, during the harvest time, we collected the seeds

from the vegetables and preserved them for the next planting. We ate some of

them, too.

H: What kinds of things were you planting?

O: Pumpkins. Roasted. [We] dried it and roasted it. It was very good. We had

pumpkin and we had about four different kinds of sweet potatoes, black-eyed

peas, lima beans, and corn. We would have to have the corn.

H: When you say you have to have the corn, why is that?

O: Because it is part of the Seminole religion. We had other kinds of vegetables but

not all the Seminole people had them. They came from somebody else. Banana

trees, we had. Sugarcane. We drew water from the well. My father built a well

underground and we got our water supply from it.

H: So, after you lived in the wilderness for a while, eventually you moved to the


O: Yes, because animal-hide selling became illegal and my father had to give up on

that. They set up the Big Cypress reservation and we moved there. First there

was a place on Highway 29, right north of the Alligator Alley, they said there was

going to be a reservation. We moved there and lived for a short time. They told

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us that it was going to be a reservation, so we went there. Many families moved

there for working. My father started working and he crated for grocery stores and

the supply. At that time he got married because he had to work all the time and

he needed somebody to wash his clothes and cook for him, and to watch his

home. So, he got married. I guess that was in 1937 or 1938, or along in there.

It seems like 1938. And we lived there. They had day school going on for small

children. I was too big for that so I did not go. I hung around there because they

were my friends. Different teachers [would] come and teach the children. The

first teacher that ever was there, I think he was named Mr. Barney, he came

from California, he and his wife. They had no children of their own. I do not

remember what length of time they taught school there, but they went back.

Their time expired and they went back. He was a very good teacher. After that,

different teachers came in and taught, and then, gradually, the schoolhouse

improved. The first schoolhouse was a chickee. It had a floor above ground and

it had sides half way up. The other half had screens, screened all around, except

both ends of the chickee were walled, because you would have to have a door to

lock it. At the end you had blackboards or stuff up there. There was no school

for my age, at that time, and the other boys and girls my age. Barely back to

1943 the Agency was inviting any other young Seminoles who would like to go to

school in boarding school in North Carolina. I wanted to go so bad and my father

would never have signed the papers for me to go. But I had my sister agree and

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she did not know how to write her name. She fingerprinted for me.

H: So why wouldn't your father sign?

O: Because he was a medicine man. He was a medicine man's helper and he

wanted his children to live the way he lived. But he was glad after I learned a

little to help him. He was glad. He was a changed man when he died in 1962.

He died in 1962, I think it was, maybe in 1963.

H: You say he was a changed man. What changed about him?

O: He became a Christian. He joined the church. About that time, [or] shortly after,

he passed away. He was way over eighty years old; I do not know exactly how

old he was, but he was very old. He was a very strong man but he had an

enlarged heart and he could not survive it. When he got married, he stayed

married for many years, for a long, long time. They would go back and forth;

they would go back where we used to live for some time, and then they would

come back to Big Cypress. They would go back and forth.

H: Was that your mother?

O: My stepmother.

H: What about your mother?

O: My real mother passed away. I think it was around seventy-one years ago that

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she passed away. I was three years old.

H: What was her name?

O: Ruby. She was Ruby Jim. She was the daughter of Little Jim. I do not know

her mother's name, my grandmother's name, but she was the daughter of

Adlopee, or Miami Billie.

H: You say that your father became a Christian. Are you a Christian?

O: Yes. Yes, I am. Retiring. I have been a Sunday school teacher for a good

fourteen years now, and I am getting old. I enjoy it very much. I am hoping that

Seminole people go to church, then I will be much happier.

H: Did your father pass down any of the medicine knowledge to you?

O: No, he did not. There is a reason that they do not readily pass on the

[information] to sons and daughters. They like to keep it secret unless a person

is willing to take it and be trained and use it to help other people. Another reason

is that they look at their background and see if they are qualified. That is why, if

they think this person is not qualified, they do not teach them. So, children, when

they were not going to public schools or any government schools, they were

home everyday, year-round. The parents, father and mother, would teach them,

usually chores, how to take care of themselves, like drawing water, washing

dishes, and to learn how to start the cooking, and how to tend a car, and things

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like that they [would] teach them. At night, they would teach them fairy tales to

go to sleep with.

H: Can you remember some of the fairy tales?

O: No. I heard many of them but I forgot. Usually it was about animals, different


H: During that time, did they also teach you anything about Seminole history?

O: Yes. Yes, they did. Since they did not write the history, they carried it in memory.

So, I will say it has fallen apart. They know a little of this, and that, and that, and

that. That is how they used to tell the children or young people, not in a full

history, like a paragraph of it, just a piece of it. In 1950, a great change took

place in Seminole life. By that time some children were going to public school,

like people on the Tamiami Trail or living close to the city and here in Hollywood.

And Big Cypress, more and more children are going to school. That time,

something happened all of a sudden. Families got increased by children, they

had more children, and some children from other nationalities. Before that, it was

forbidden to intermarry with other nationalities of people, for a long, long time,

many years. That held them down for some time, but in 1950 that changed.

Before 1950, the families kept their children to grow older before they [would] get

married, like twenty on up to twenty-five, like that. So, there were less small

children at that time and we knew each family, how many children they had,

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because they were growing. [It was] easy to count how many children they had,

this family had. We knew all of them by their names. And clans, too. But [in]

1950, small children came, they had small children rapidly, and [it] increased the

tribe. They intermarried with [people of] other nationalities. This was not allowed

before. And then they had to have school improvements so they could go to

school. They had been trying for a long time to have a better school at Big

Cypress, one like it is today, but some of them [would] go to school in Clewiston.

Over at the Brighton reservation they had a day school for a long, long time.

They had a good teacher and his term just expired, I guess. He taught many

years there, he and his wife. They had children going to school for him and then,

when they were old enough to go to public school in Okeechobee, they just

started going to the Okeechobee school. Here they go the same way. Someone

was going to school in Miami also.

H: When did you move away from Big Cypress?

O: When I went to school in 1943, that is when I started drifting. Then I came home.

I found out I was seriously sick when I got to boarding school in North Carolina,

that I had to go to hospital. I went to hospital for twelve months, then came

home, and I went back to school. Then they found out I was still sick, not cured.

They sent me back to the same hospital. This time I stayed four years in the

hospital. It took that long to cure.

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H: What was wrong?

O: I had TB.

H: And you were in a hospital in North Carolina? Where did you go to the hospital?

O: Oklahoma. Shawnee, Oklahoma. After four years, I was cured and I was asked

if I would continue going to school, the doctor there could arrange it for me. But I

missed my family for a long time so I wanted to come home. I told him I wanted

to come home. After that, after I came home, the doctor told me I could not work

hard. I would not be able to work for some time, so I did not work. Just hung

around, drifting. I would work a little bit, maybe two or three days at a time. I

[would] keep on going, doing the drifting. One time we were up to Sarasota for a

tourist attraction and after that I came home and worked for Tribe in woodcraft. It

is that time that they set up a better job working here in Hollywood. A man from

Washington was down here, he was doing a special education program and he

suggested that if I wanted to I could come to Hollywood and work in a better

condition and [get] paid more. So, that is what I did. I came here in 1967. Since

then I lived here, and after I resigned from this job I had two other jobs, like

working for an optical company making prescription eyeglasses in Miami. After

that I worked in the Lexurant company in Fort Lauderdale. This one assembles

the garage door operators, the kind [that] you drive up, press a button, and it

automatically opens. I worked there for eight years. Everybody was trying to get

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out of there, and I was too. We kept applying for other jobs. Nobody could get a

job at that time because those years, the whole United States economy came

down. Nobody was able to find a job at that time. So, that is what happened. I

stayed until I really got tired of it. I decided to quit. That is what I did. After I quit

that job, I started working for the Seminole Tribe and Hot Meals. I was hired as

the master cook, or head cook.

H: Did they do that because you are such a good cook?

O: Yes. I cooked for a while and then the staff manager, or site manager, they kept

coming and going. They were not satisfied with them and some of them got

fired, some of them decided to go on. After about three site managers they put

me in as manager, and cooking too. I worked eight years and retired. I still enjoy

cooking. I thought I would work part-time, but after I retired I had [one] sickness

after another. And I did not know that. After I retired, I kept feeling sick, and

sick, and sick, and sick. Soon I could not stand on my feet too long. They hurt

pretty badly. So, I decided not to work, and I am still not working. I still want to

go to work.

H: I understand you also sew. You make Seminole garments?

O: Yes. When our mother passed away, we had to make our own clothes, and also

mending or fixing. My sisters and I helped together [to] make clothes and cook,

too. That was when I learned to sew. We were doing [it] by needle, sew by

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hand. For a long time we did not have a sewing machine. For a long, long time.

Then my sisters got sewing machine. They went on sewing their clothes, and

[some] for selling, also. Back in 1952, I think it was, I decided to make something

and try to sell it. I sewed with my sisters' machine. I think the first garment I

made at that time was an apron, and I sold it. It gave me a good idea so I

continued to improve my sewing. And that is what I am doing today.

H: I was at the powwow in February and saw you with your full Seminole dress. It

was beautiful. You gave a speech at that time where you talked about the

importance of keeping the Seminole cultural traditions and the importance of

teaching those to the younger generation. Can you tell me a little bit about that?

O: Yes. I am interested in keeping the Seminole clothing tradition, keeping it going

so they can learn, the younger generation can learn, or see what they used to

wear back in the old days. I hope that someone is interested in making that kind

.... I think many of them make that kind of clothing today. Some of them are

difficult to make. It is the medicine men's coat that is difficult to make.

H: Why is that?

O: It is made like inside out, first. Not actually, but it is the way you sew and fold,

like that. It is made like inside out and then you put ruffles around it. You put

patchwork on the top of it, not sewed in. It is placed on top. So, it had to be

straight, not sagging. [You would] put strips around it, and also it had like a tape

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on the shoulder that is hard to make, too, and place it. It just makes it hard to

make with the original pattern. The other way is easy. Just put the patchwork in

between them and then make it quick. But that is not the original.

H: You make coats for medicine men today? You do that?

0: I do not know if they still do that or not. The reason they call it the medicine

men's coat is that when a Seminole medicine man fixed the medicine, he had to

wear that coat to fix it.

H: Is that something that he wears during the Green Corn Dance?

O: Yes.

H: Do you attend the Green Corn Dance?

0: I used to go every year until I went to boarding school. That is when I did not go.

My father went every year for himself. I do not know any of the dance songs.

H: After you went away to boarding school you never went to the Green Corn Dance


0: I skipped it now and then. I still do today. I go one time, I do not go the next

time, I go the other, like that. When I went to school, when I got to school, the

opportunity to be what you wanted to be was so great at hand, and you were free

to do it-except I had no money. [Laughs.] I wanted to be a Navy man, I wanted

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to be a doctor, a lab technician, and there were other kinds of services that I

wanted to be. I wanted to be all this at the same time. [Laughter.] That is what

interested me, so much that I thought less of the Green Corn Dance. That is

what happened.

H: Do you know any medicine men or women who continue to practice medicine


O: Yes. Only three, I know, that still practice. But I do not know who prepares the

medicines. One would have to know how to do it. In my time, there were

different doctors, Seminole doctors, fixing medicine. One year a different one,

the next year a different one, and the third year the same one. Like that, they

changed around. It is just like some doctors we know, that some people say, this

doctor is very effective. He healed me. He gave me good medicine. It is the

same way with the Seminole medicine men. Some of them are not so effective

and then they go less to him for medicine than they go to the good one.

H: Who are the three medicine men that you know? What are their names?

O: Today, the medicine men that I know are Sonny Billy and Pete Osceola. I do not

know if there is one up in Creek, in Brighton. I do not know. Sonny goes up to

help. But there is one up there, they get together and celebrate.

H: Why do they have a Green Corn Dance?

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O: It is like celebrating a New Year, exactly. It is like making a New Year's

resolution. It is practiced exactly, except they use medicine. That used to be the

year ending and a new year beginning, in June. They used the medicine men to

renew their health, to go off for their next twelve months. They would repeat it

every twelve months.

H: It was held each year in June?

O: Yes.

H: Were any outsiders allowed to come?

O: No. It was just like a church today. Like the Catholic Church do not go into the

Baptist Church and practice their faith. Neither do Baptists go into the Catholic

Church to practice their faith. It is just like that. They not allow other religions to

interfere with it.

H: You say that you go sometimes, lately. How has it changed from the way it was

about thirty years ago?

O: What change took place is that they allowed ... these are Indians from other

tribes, from northern people. They have learned to sing a song, lead dances.

This was not allowed but they have changed. And then, one medicine man

married a white lady, [and they are] not supposed to. It is just like I said, it is just

like church. If you are a good Christian, you do not marry any woman, no.

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[Laughter.] I do not know about medicine. I cannot comment on that.

H: When you used to go to the Green Corn Dance, did you ever get scratched?

O: Yes, when I was a young boy I got scratched. It is erased now. You can see,

now. Not scratched for a long, long time.

H: Why did you get scratched?

O: Like I said, for the renewing. Renewing for good health for the next twelve

months. But Jesus paid all of that for me. I do not have to scratch myself.


H: Have you or any of your family ever been involved in the cattle business?

O: Yes, my dad and I did. We sold it later on. After he passed away my stepmother

and I sold it and so did my sisters. I think just one of my sisters. She and her

husband owned cattle. They, too, sold it when they separated, from their


H: When you and your family owned cattle, what kinds of things did women do in

the cattle business? You said your sister had cattle. What kind of jobs did she

do? How did she take care of the cows?

O: That I do not know. I have not been involved with it for years now. They have

been changing, or trying to change, the program, I heard. And I have not been to

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their meetings. I think they have their regular meetings about the cattle raising


H: The annual fair, the powwow that I mentioned, that I saw you there, how do you

think that helps to preserve or to keep the Seminole culture alive?

O: It is very difficult because some young generations like to learn, some do not.

Some do not care. Some do, and some older people also do not care to

practice. Some do. Some are interested in practice. It is different [for] individual

people. I think it is hard to get the people who are interested together and work

on it. I think it would be hard to do that because they do not live in the same

area. Some live in Big Cypress, or Brighton, or the Trail?

H: Do you think that it is important that people continue to learn about Seminole


0: I think it is very important that people should take time for that and learn about

the culture and also language.

H: You mentioned to me earlier that you were trying to buy a tape recorder so that

you could record some stories. Tell me a little bit about that.

0: I just had in mind that some of the ... [End of Tape Side A]

H: Have you visited the museum?

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0: I am interested in it [and] in favor of it 100%. I was hoping the Seminole Tribe

would establish a museum like that for a long time before it materialized. I am

very happy with what we have today. I think that [it would be good if] the

museum would make more room for the other kinds of items to be seen in there.

It is mostly clothes in now, and some wood; there should be more than that, like

also jewelry, Seminole dolls, and things like that.

H: When do you wear traditional Seminole clothing?

0: I really like to wear them. Whatever chance I get, I wear them. I wear Seminole

clothes up in White Springs, but I did not go this year. I have sold some of it

while I was up there; they had gotten too small for me. And there was a man,

they have a museum up north somewhere, and he wanted it so bad, so I sold it

to him-like a hat, turban, and shirt. Every year I go to Chokoloskee Island, they

call it Seminole Day, that is when I dress up in the Seminole clothing.

H: This is a very nice senior citizens center that they have here. This is one of the

benefits of how well the Tribe has done economically in the last twenty years or

so. Can you tell me what you think of the economic practices?

0: I thank you for your comments. It is real nice. From the beginning, for

Hollywood, we had a most difficult time to get the program with the Seminoles

because Florida State says that we are in the city of Hollywood. Why don't we

get up and go eat with the white people's Hot Meals in the city. And they all just

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arose and said they did not want to do it. The next suggestion was meals on

wheels, they would deliver meals in their homes, but the food would be cold.

They did not want that either. So, they turned that one down. We had one tribal

representative at that time and he worked hard and decided to try to start it and

then Florida State would pay the other half, half and half, they would cooperate.

To that they agreed, and that is how we got it. It used to be over there, where

they are working out in the field. It is a little one. That is where I used to work.

That was very difficult. They did not accept that idea either because Big Cypress

and Brighton, Hot Meals related to the Fort Myers area-Lee County, Charlotte

County, and other counties. A moderator had about five counties. She is a nice

woman and she lives in Fort Myers. She could not extend her program over

here. That was another hard way to go through. But then she had the programs

on two other reservations. [Branching from] that it got here. That is how we did

it. And they are building another one over there. That is going to be much better

than this one.

H: What kind of activities do you do here at the Senior Citizens Center?

O: What kind of activities? Oh, me, I stay home a lot. [Laughs.] I like to go for a

drive and then I go out and eat evening meals. Sometimes I cook. I sew.

H: Do they have certain special things happening here at the senior citizens center?

O: Exercise. If [there are] any programs that we need to go to, they come and

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announce it here: who wants to go, and who wants to go, like that. Every once in

a while we get taken out to eat, too, doing it special, like Mother's Day, or

Christmas, or Thanksgiving, like that. We eat here in the community for

everybody, but just seniors' special dinners they take them out to a restaurant.

Sometimes we go to Miami, downtown Miami, and get all of the food. [Laughs.]

H: Do you have children?

O: No. I have never been married in my life. I had three chances but I did not take

them. I like to play. [Laughter.] I love to be able to play. I keep saying, I am too

young. Both of my sisters married early. One had ten children, and the other

had four children. They are all gone, except one; my oldest sister's husband is

still alive today. My sisters are gone. Some of their children are gone also.

They died young. I do not know what would have happened to me if I had gotten


H: Well, that is about all of the questions that I have for you, unless there is

something else that you would like to add that I have not asked you about.

O: No.

H: Thank you very much for your time. I really appreciate it.

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